Ichiro Suzuki and the Marlins are headed nowhere fast, struggling offensively since star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton broke a bone in his hand last month. (Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Red Sox-Marlins series preview

July 07, 2015 - 4:42 am

The Red Sox are reaching a critical point in their season going into their series with the Marlins. Winners of six of their last eight, the Red Sox are 39-45, but just six games out of first place in the AL East. A two-game sweep of the Marlins could prompt a buying mentality leading up to the trade deadline. Meanwhile, two losses could spell the white flag. Coming off of three consecutive series wins, including a crucial two-of-three over the AL-leading Astros, the Red Sox appear to be right on the cusp of contention in the division. And with a three-game set against the first-place Yankees on the horizon, the Sox have the potential to make a huge leap before the All-Star break. "It's good, man," David Ortiz said after 12-6 drubbing of the Blue Jays last Thursday. "We haven't been able to play consistently good, you know? If we finish the first half of the season playing the way we have lately, it'll give you hope for the second half, especially when you're in a division where there's not too many games apart. We played the worst the first couple months of the season and we're still six, seven games away. If we start playing better, it'll give you hope." The Red Sox have scored at least five runs in each of their last four games leading to a 3-1 record. Over the last seven days, they have slashed a hefty .277/.344/.463, good for the fifth best OPS in the MLB. During this stretch, they have slugged the majors' third-most extra-base hits. Though the Sox rotation has struggled to say the least, the hurlers have begun to rebound. Over the last month, their ERA does not look pretty, sitting at 4.88. However, they sport a 3.49 FIP and a league-high .359 BABIP during this period, indicating they have fallen prone to some bad luck of late. Additionally, the starters' 2.8 WAR ranks in the top third of the MLB. Since the loss of MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton to a hand injury, the Marlins have essentially capsized. The Fish have lost eight of their last 13 to fall to 35-48 and fourth place in the NL East. The main issue with the Marlins has unsurprisingly been the offense. They have scored just 29 runs over their last 14 games, a result of the fourth worst wRC+ (72) and the fourth-highest soft contact percentage (22.8) in the majors. Five of nine Marlins regulars have a batting average under .240 during this stretch. "It's frustrating right now," Marlins manager Dan Jennings said following a 2-0 loss to the Cubs on Sunday. "We were on such a good momentum run. "You have to be able to win these close games by executing when you get those runners in scoring position and doing those little things to get guys moved over into scoring position." Thankfully for Marlins hitters, their pitching staff has bailed them out with a 3.29 ERA in their last six games. A 1.90 BB/K rate and a .214 opponents' average has helped Marlins pitchers keep hitters off the basepaths and off the scoreboard en route to a 4-2 record. The Red Sox will count their blessings as they will not have to face Marlins ace Jose Fernandez on Tuesday or Wednesday. The 22-year-old phenom made his 2015 debut last week, striking out six and blasting a home run in his long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery. Here are the pitching matchups for the series: Tuesday: Wade Miley (8-7, 4.53 ERA) vs. Dan Haren (6-5, 3.45 ERA) Wednesday: Rick Porcello (4-9, 6.08 ERA) vs. Tom Koehler (7-4, 3.52 ERA) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX -- Mookie Betts has continued to tear the cover off the ball. The diminutive center fielder has clubbed a .370/.418/.650 slash line over the last month. Perhaps most impressively, he has a higher walk rate (8.0 percent) than strikeout rate (7.1 percent) during this stretch. -- Since being acquired from the division rival Orioles last month, Alejandro De Aza has proven his worth as more than a utility outfielder. The lefty has three dingers and 13 RBIs in the last 14 days, good for an isolated power figure of .425. -- Hanley Ramirez has joined the union of Red Sox sluggers of late as well, tagging three long balls in his last four games, including the game-winning two run shot in the seventh inning of Sunday's game vs. the Astros. WHO'S HOT: MARLINS -- Highly-touted outfielder Christian Yelich has struggled for most of the season with a .258 average and a 0.3 WAR. However, in the last seven days, he has logged a .368/.520/.632 slash line, the best of any Marlins starter. -- Tom Koehler has won his last three decisions, posting a 1.80 ERA and racking up a 92.1 percent strand rate in these games. -- Marlins relievers have proven nearly unhittable of late, logging a 1.82 ERA in the last 14 days, the fifth-best mark in the majors. They have combined to produce a 56.1 percent ground ball rate and have allowed just 3.2 percent of fly balls to leave the yard. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX -- Rick Porcello is not hot. A minor controversy arose surrounding Red Sox manager John Farrell's decision to send Justin Masterson to the pen instead of Porcello, and for good reason. During his last five starts, Porcello owns a putrid 0-4 record with a 9.12 ERA and a lowly 56.1 percent strand rate. -- Unfortunately for the Sox, Masterson has not done much better than Porcello since his return from right shoulder tendinitis June 28. In his most recent start, the 6-foot-6 righty lasted just 3 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs. -- The ever-evolving saga of Mike Napoli's abysmal 2015 season continued this past week when he logged an .087/.192/.130 slash line with eight strikeouts in 26 plate appearances. WHO'S NOT: MARLINS -- Though he still maintains a season average of .339, Dee Gordon has cooled off significantly since his last temperature check. The speedster is hitting .160 over the past week and his strikeout rate has risen to 15.4 percent, while his walk rate has plummeted even further to 3.8 percent. -- Marcell Ozuna has not lived up to expectations in 2015. The slugger who clubbed 23 home runs last year has yet to find the stroke, sending just four over the fence this season. It hasn't gotten any better for Ozuna of late, either, as he's slashed just .192/.231/.253 and struck out 28.8 percent of the time during the last month. -- Alongside Ozuna, Ichiro Suzuki has lost the stable veteran bat the Marlins signed him for this offseason. Ichiro has not recorded a hit in his last 30 at-bats dating back to June 19.